A Guide to Overcoming Parenting-Style Struggles in Your Blended Family
Have you ever watched other people parenting their kids when you're out in public? I have. I often get caught up comparing their approach to my own. Sometimes it makes me feel good about my parenting style - other times I'm envious of theirs.
Some parents are overly harsh, even rude to their kids as they bark out commands and threats. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those that are so lax it seems like the roles have reversed and the kids are in charge. Or maybe you've encountered a really effective parent - it's clear they've got some healthy parental authority. They are good at directing their kids and do it in a way that's both firm and loving.
Mike and I have very different parenting styles. I'll admit it…when we met, I was one of those "lax" parents with my daughter Annika. I only had her every other week and I wanted our limited time to be fun, so I didn't focus on setting limits around her behavior or disciplining. Mike is more of a 'Drill Sergeant' parent - he's not shy about handing down expectations and he expects compliance (this doesn’t turn out well for step-parents, by the way).
Once we were all under the same roof, Mike and I quickly realized that our opposing parenting styles created tension and disagreement. It wasn't long before we had two mutual kids and realized we needed to figure this parenting stuff out ASAP!
Parenting is a common challenge for most couples, and when you add in the complexities of blended family life, it often leads to relational barriers. Step-couples who get locked into their preferred parenting style tend to fall into patterns of conflict and disconnection. Then the kids end up experiencing unpredictable parental responses.
Different Parenting Styles
Psychologist Diana Baumrind is known for her work around parenting styles. She describes the common ways parents try to control their kids. Here are a few:
- Permissive Parents are reluctant to impose rules or standards and prefer to let their kids regulate themselves.
- Authoritarian Parents demand obedience from their kids. They use harsh punishments or shaming to get kids to comply.
- Authoritative Parents set and enforce high standards for their kids, while emotionally responding to them with care and respect.
According to stepfamily expert Patricia Papernow, the Authoritative Parenting style is the best predictor of better outcomes for children on every measure imaginable including emotional well-being, social competence, academic performance and general behavior. There's a massive amount of research that confirms this in all family forms — never-divorced, single-parent homes and stepfamilies.
Papernow says, "Stepfamily dynamics 'set the stage' for parents and step-parents to move toward opposite parenting styles. Step-parents, longing for more order and control, are easily pulled toward the Authoritarian style - hostile and firm. In response, parents become protective of their kids and sometimes move even further into Permissiveness. Step-parents and parents simply see things differently".
The reality is that you and your partner will see parenting in a stepfamily differently and that's okay. But regardless of your differing styles, every step-couple needs to develop a parental partnership, learn to minimize conflict and move toward those best outcomes for the kids.
Here's three practical steps you can take to make these things happen:
1. Mobilize your Strengths
Rather than focusing on your differences, consider your individual strengths. By identifying each of your parenting strengths, you can mobilize them appropriately when you need to.
I'm good at offering empathy and emotional support to our kids even when they make a poor choice and need help working through regret, anger or sadness. And Mike has a real talent for coming up with good consequences — the kind that really fit the crime and make sense to kids. This has been helpful over the years when one of our kids stumbles into trouble.
We each still have parental blind spots, but we've also discovered that we both have valuable insights and parenting skills. Mobilizing your Strengths is a mindset shift from getting stuck on the frustrations you have with your partner’s parenting style to focusing on their parenting strengths. This will help you cultivate more appreciation and respect for each other which will lead to deeper connection.
2. Meet in the Middle
When both of you are willing to compromise and negotiate your 'middle ground', much of the stress around parenting will ease up. This takes time and patience, but it's well worth the effort. Accept that neither of you are going to get everything you want, but when you're able to agree on a plan that works for both of you, everyone wins.
Over the past 17 years Mike and I have learned to value each other's perspectives and listen carefully to the intentions behind our individual parenting goals. Understanding each other helps us find our middle ground and master the art of "letting-it-go". We've waged many wars over petty issues that led to unnecessary conflict. You can avoid those wars by clarifying what's really important to each of you and then letting the small stuff go.
If you're stuck in parenting conflict, ask yourselves where you need to meet in the middle and what you can let go of. Then try making some new parenting decisions as a team. After you try out your new ideas, evaluate how it worked and go back to do some tweaking if you need to. There is no such thing as a perfect parent or a perfect step-parent — make imperfect progress your goal!
3. Master Authoritative Parenting Together
To ensure we were both moving toward Authoritative Parenting, Mike and I needed to agree on a solid parenting method—then we consistently practiced it.
This was a big win for us because it supplied us with third-party guidance. We didn't need to argue about whose way we were going to do things. Instead, we referred to the parenting method that we chose together. Using a parenting method helped to keep us on track and moving forward.
I needed to step up my parenting with Annika, but I wasn't sure how to move beyond my permissive ways. The Love & Logic parenting method provided practical instruction, encouragement and trouble-shooting tips. I needed all of that to become the parent I really wanted to be.
There are lots of parenting methods to choose from. We recommend you find one that clearly supports the Authoritative Parenting style, then commit to learning it and implementing it. Doing this together will grow your parental partnership.
Take a parenting class, read a book or reach out for advice from seasoned parents that you admire. Get the help you need to make continual progress in becoming a healthy and effective parenting team!
Parenting is Only One of 5 Essential Elements for Stepfamilies
First families and stepfamilies are simply different - effective parenting in a stepfamily needs a fresh approach. If you want strong step-relationships, healthy parental authority and effective discipline you must move forward with thoughtfulness and care. Patricia Papernow has discovered that, "Children thrive when stepparents concentrate on connection, not correction, and parents practice caring, responsive and firm parenting."
Parenting in a stepfamily is a BIG topic — much bigger than just one blog article. It's also only one area where step-couples need good strategies to be successful. Other essential elements for stepfamilies include:
- Healthy Relational Bonding
- Understanding Kid's Perspectives
- Effective Co-Parenting with Ex's
- Safeguarding Your Marriage or Partnership
Sooner or later most step-couples feel overwhelmed by the challenges that come along with all these complex elements of stepfamily life. They know it's possible to experience more connection and peace, but they're uncertain how to move forward.
If you're ready to confidently implement real-life strategies in your blended family that reduce conflict and build connection, it's time for you to join our free 5-Day Blended Family Challenge. In just 10 minutes per day for the next 5 days, you can create a fresh vision and start living the blended family experience you really want!
Get started with your 5-Day Blended Family Challenge today!
QUESTION: What's the hardest part about Meeting in the Middle for you? Leave a comment below…